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An operator at FCA's Brampton Assembly Plant installs a removable plexiglas partition in the engine compartment of a Dodge Challenger to help staff maintain social distancing in an undated photograph provided May 13, 2020.FCA/Reuters

8:30 p.m. EDT

Federal spending on pandemic measures now at $151.7-billion

Federal spending on COVID-19 measures now stands at $151.7-billion, according to the Finance Department’s latest tally of government announcements.

As part of an agreement with the opposition parties in the minority Parliament, the Liberal government is required to table a full cost breakdown of its pandemic spending measures every other week in a report to the House of Commons finance committee.

This week’s report, dated May 13, shows total spending has increased by nearly $6-billion since the last report on April 29.

Some of the new spending announced over the past two weeks includes $240.5-million for virtual care and mental-health online programs and $2.5-billion in one-time payments to Canadian seniors.

The government also announced a Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility program on May 11 that will provide large corporations with government loans in the event that they are unable to secure private financing.

- Bill Curry

8:30 p.m. EDT

COVID-19 behind one per cent cut to Vancouver’s policing budget: council

The union representing Vancouver’s police officers joined the police chief Thursday in criticizing a budget cut passed by city council, arguing their services shouldn’t be reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

City council passed a motion Wednesday to reduce the police department’s $314 million budget by one per cent, equating to about a $3.5 million budget cut.

The Vancouver Police Union estimates that could rise to $8.5 million depending on the outcome of arbitration related to a collective bargaining agreement.

About 27 per cent of the city’s revenue is spent on police services.

“These are really tough discussions we’re having and it’s a result of our revenue loss,” Mayor Kennedy Stewart told a news conference on Thursday. “We’ve had negotiations with the other unions about how we can at least slow down further layoffs or postpone them and this is just another one of those discussions.”

Police officers are already expressing worries over the proposed cuts, said union president Ralph Kaisers.

“Our members are concerned. My phone has exploded today with concerns and comments,” he said. “Now’s not the time for cuts.”

In a statement, police Chief Adam Palmer criticized the secretive nature of the cuts, which were debated in an in-camera meeting.

“There was zero consultation with the Vancouver Police Board, VPD, or any VPD unions on the motion itself and how it will affect the safety and security of Vancouver residents,” Palmer said.

7:45 p.m. EDT

B.C. health officer suggests walking, biking over transit

British Columbia’s public health officer is suggesting walking, running or biking to work during the COVID-19 pandemic rather than getting on a packed train or bus.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says public health officials are working on guidelines to protect people as well as transit workers.

She says 15 people in B.C. have tested positive for the novel coronavirus over the past 24 hours bringing the total to 2,392.

B.C. also reported three more deaths, bringing the death toll to 135.

The number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 is 1,885.

– The Canadian Press

7:45 p.m. EDT

Officials say ventilation woes not key factor in COVID-19 spread at Montreal home

A ventilation problem at a hard-hit Montreal long-term care home where a majority of residents contracted COVID-19 wasn’t likely the principal factor in the virus spread, public health authorities said Thursday.

The home in question, Vigi Mont-Royal, has seen 70 residents die and numerous staff fall ill.

A problem with the ventilation system was noticed on May 8 by the regional health authority, which noted employees were getting sick in droves.

Quebec’s public health director said while proper air filtration is beneficial for other reasons, it’s unlikely to have been the key factor in COVID-19 transmission at the home.

“It’s a very low factor in the transmission,” Dr. Horacio Arruda told reporters in Montreal. “I think there are probably other factors related to the difficulty to apply (prevention and control of infections measures) in those settings, which are not like a hospital. It’s like a home, there are a lot of objects to clean.”

– The Canadian Press

5 p.m. EDT

Toronto to close two major roads on weekend

Toronto unveiled Thursday its list of 57 kilometres of “quiet streets” where drivers are expected to share space with pedestrians and the city promised weekend closings of sections of two major roads.

The first of these quiet streets was installed Thursday morning in Kensington Market and consisted of pylons on the road and signs urging everyone to share the space. When observed in the early afternoon, the pylons were blocking about as much of the road’s width as the parked cars and driver behaviour appeared unchanged.

The limited scope of the intervention sparked a withering response when photos of it were posted on Twitter. Mayor John Tory acknowledged that the work – part of a program dubbed “ActiveTO” – was happening quickly and he said tactics could change over time.

“We wanted to move forward with these quiet streets as quickly as possible and the physical manner in which we are doing it will be modified and frankly improved as we go,” he told the city’s daily briefing.

The city is also promising to shut for the weekend the south end of Bayview Avenue, from Mill Street to Rosedale Valley Road, and the eastbound lanes of Lakeshore Boulevard between Windermere Avenue and Stadium Road.

“ActiveTO is about making sure people have the space to get outside, have the space to get around while respecting physical distancing,” Mr. Tory said.

– Oliver Moore

1:40 p.m. EDT

Ontario to allow some businesses to reopen May 19

Ontario’s first phase in its reopening plan will start on Tuesday, which will include resuming all construction, scheduled surgeries and allowing stores outside of malls to reopen with physical distancing restrictions.

But golf courses, marinas, private parks and campgrounds, and businesses that board animals can open as early as Saturday.

The province will also resume procedures at hospitals and clinics, as well as allowing in-person counselling services, according to a ten-page document called “A Framework for Reopening our Province.”

“We’re getting thousands of people back to work,” Premier Doug Ford said Thursday, but cautioned: “Businesses should open only if they are ready.”

Sports with individual competitors such as watersports, tennis, gymnastics and horse racing will be allowed to resume. Swimming pools, however, will remain closed, and all water sports must be done in outdoor bodies of water.

Services for pets, such as grooming and veterinarian appointments, will resume, as well as housekeeping services.

Car dealerships and media operations – such as music recording and post-production for television and movies – will also be allowed.

Indoor malls will not be able to open and stores must maintain physical distancing rules, including appointment-only shopping or limiting the number of people inside and restricting the number of customers per square metre.

Ontario has released 95 safety guidelines for businesses, including office spaces, restaurants and the auto industry.

– Laura Stone

1:30 p.m. EDT

Montreal schools won’t reopen until after summer

Primary school students in the Montreal area will not go back to class until the next school year at the earliest.

Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement Thursday during his first appearance in Montreal in two months, saying the situation with COVID-19 remains fragile in the city.

“The conditions are not in place to reopen schools,” Mr. Legault said after meeting Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante. Some 3,351 people have died from COVID-19 in Quebec, about two-thirds of them in Montreal. “The situation is under control outside the Montrea region but the situation is fragile here.”

The province had already cancelled all secondary and post-secondary classes while elementary school outside the greater Montreal region resumed this week. No other Canadian jurisdiction has gone back to school on a large scale.

Mr. Legault also announced the reopening of public daycares will be pushed back to at least June 1. Stores and other small business are scheduled to open May 25 but Mr. Legault said he has not made a final decision on that. He said it may depend on whether Montrealers adopt recent policy reversal recommending the wearing of masks. He said he “hasn’t excluded” making masks mandatory, particularly on public transit.

- Les Perreaux

12:45 p.m. EDT

Important First Nations ceremonies to continue

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says the government will not cancel important ceremonies for First Nations peoples in the face of COVID-19.

He says banning of such ceremonies in the past has been a dark stain on Canada’s history.

He says any such cancellations will be the decision of First Nations leadership who have been provided with public health advice.

As of May 13, there have been 185 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on First Nations reserves in Canada.

Of those, two people have died and 63 per cent have recovered.

Chief medical officer of Indigenous Services Canada Dr. Tom Wong says the fatality rate is so far less than the rest of Canada.

But numbers are only available for Indigenous peoples living on reserves, and the provinces will need to help in order to get a clearer picture of how the virus is impacting Indigenous people at large.

– The Canadian Press

11:35 a.m. EDT

Ottawa announces $470-million for fishing industry

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $470-million investment on Thursday for fish harvesters.

During his daily news briefing, Mr. Trudeau said the federal government is creating the fish harvesters benefit.

He said fish harvesters who expect a 25 per cent drop in income will get support to cover 75 per cent of losses up to $10,000.

Mr. Trudeau also said that Ottawa is also introducing non-repayable grants of up to $10,000 for fish harvesters who own their own businesses.

Mr. Trudeau said Employment Insurance rules would be changed so harvesters can apply for EI benefits based on their earning from previous years.

The Prime Minister also announced that as of next month that some national parks will be partially re-opened so people can use trails and green spaces where physical distancing is possible.

– Kristy Kirkup

11:15 a.m. EDT

National parks to allow limited day-use activities June 1

Parks Canada will allow a limited reopening of day-use activities at national parks across the country on June 1 but camping won’t come back until “at least” June 21.

Ottawa is also making a special entreaty for people to stay away from the parks this Victoria Day weekend, as difficult as that might be for many Canadians itching to get outside as the weather warms. “For their own safety, Canadians should not try to access locations that are closed,” says a government news release.

Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, said starting June 1, Parks Canada will resume some operations at national parks, national historic sites, national marine conservation areas and national wildlife areas. This will include access to some trails, day use areas, and green spaces, as well as some access for recreational boating.

All camping facilities remain closed until at least June 21, as the government agency assesses whether and how services might resume. Group activities and public events are also prohibited until further notice.

- Kelly Cryderman

More headlines:

How many coronavirus cases are there in Canada, by province, and worldwide? The latest maps and charts

10:50 a.m. EDT

Ontario sees slowing growth rate of COVID-19 cases

Ontario is reporting 258 new cases of COVID-19 today, and 33 more deaths.

That brings Ontario to a total of 21,494 cases, which is a 1.2 per cent increase — the lowest growth rate since early March.

The total includes 1,798 deaths and 16,204 cases that have been resolved, which is now more than 75 per cent of the total.

Hospitalizations increased, though the numbers of people in intensive care and on a ventilator decreased.

- The Canadian Press

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People line up at a Beer Store in Toronto on April 16, 2020.Colin N. Perkel/The Canadian Press

4 a.m. EDT

Toronto brewery asks consumers to bring back empties

A Toronto brewery is issuing a plea for consumers to bring back their empty bottles as the Beer Store says a growing number of its locations are accepting returns.

Steam Whistle Brewery says restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a decline in bottle returns, leaving it with a potential shortage just as sales are expected to ramp up for spring and summer.

Tim McLaughlin, the company’s vice-president of marketing, says there could be “rolling shortages” of Steam Whistle beer in the coming months unless it’s able to recover and reuse more empties.

He says the company used up an entire year’s worth of new bottles to make up for the lack of returns, and it’ll take months for a new order to be delivered.

Bottles returned to the Beer Store or the brewery itself, he says, can be back in use within days.

The Beer Store temporarily stopped accepting empty cans and bottles in March to adjust to the new health and safety measures imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but has since allowed returns to resume at most locations.

- The Canadian Press

12:50 a.m. EDT

Ottawa announces $2.3-million to combat COVID-19 outbreak in northern Saskatchewan

The federal government says it is contributing $2.3-million in funding to support a response plan in northern Saskatchewan dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak in the region.

Indigenous Services Canada says in a news release Wednesday night that the money will go to the North West Saskatchewan Pandemic Response Plan, which includes First Nation, Metis, municipal, provincial and federal officials.

The government of Saskatchewan says 149 out of the 186 active cases are in the northern part of the province.

It has said the virus was brought in via travel from an oilsands work camp in northern Alberta.

Indigenous Services Canada says the funds will be jointly administered and support ongoing community-based efforts, such as security checkpoints in affected communities, measures to address food security and the provision of homecare supplies.

The government agency says it will also work with affected communities to increase access to testing, enhanced surveillance and contact tracing.

-The Canadian Press

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